Vol. XL No. 44 October 30, 2016

N A Sawant, A Communist Functionary of Indomitable Will Power

P R Krishnan

COMRADE Narayan Atmaram Sawant who expired on September 29 at village Nigude, Sawantwadi Taluka in Maharashtra was a veteran leader of news paper employees in Maharashtra. He was 82 and one of the leading functionaries in the founding of the CPI(M) and the CITU in Maharashtra. Though trade union field was his main activity, Sawant was equally active in the political front of the undivided CPI as well as of the AITUC. From late 50s to 1980s, he was residing at Prabhadevi in Mumbai and thereafter in Belapur near B T Ranadive Bhavan. Sawant became a card holder of the undivided Communist Party in 1958. But disagreeing with the reformist policies of the party leadership then headed by S A Dange, he stood with the Leftists in the party and became an active functionary of the CPI(M) after its formation in 1964. N A Sawant was a close associate of communist leader S Y Kolhatkar. He was a colleague of Adv. K T Sule, Adv. M P More and Adv. Madan Phadnis who were pioneering leaders of news paper employees and working journalists in India. My close contact with this communist functionary is spread over six decades in the Party field and in the trade union fronts.

The books on Marxism and Leninism he read and the study classes of S A Dange, B T Ranadive, S S Mirajkar, and Gangadhar Adhikari which he attended, brought him to the communist movement and he became a member of CPI in 1958. This made him to work in the undivided party’s trade union wing, All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC). This was when he was a worker in Times of India news paper establishment in Mumbai. Sawant’s trade union work amongst news paper employees is spread over 60 years. My conduct with this talented functionary began while we both were in CPI and AITUC. Our conduct became more solid after the split in the CPI and AITUC and while working in CPI(M) and CITU, in Mumbai. Sawant was a member of the Maharashtra council of CITU for four terms. He was CITU’s Mumbai district committee member till his death. Like an active functionary of CPI(M) in Mumbai, Sawant was equally active in the political front as well as kisan movement in his native village in Sawantwadi. He is survived by his ailing wife Savitry Sawant.

Sawant’s main centre of trade union and political activities in the late 50s, 60s and during 70s was Khandelwal Bhavan in Mumbai and thereafter the CPI(M) and CITU office at Azad Maidan in Fort. He was vice president of All India News Paper Employees Federation (AINEF) and general secretary of Times of India & Allied Publications Employees Union. Sawant was one of the five member delegation of news paper employees from India who visited Soviet Union in the  year 1972 at the invitation of News Paper Employees Federation of the then USSR. This was a 13 days visit. That gave him opportunities to travel in various parts of USSR. This helped him to gather more knowledge about the working conditions and living standards of news paper employees and their families in the Soviet Union as well as the financial structure and capacities of news paper industry in the USSR.

All India News Paper Employees Federation of which Sawant was a founder leader, had vast coverage and influence in Mumbai and in other parts of India, though, presently, it has been reduced considerably. But that phenomena is not confined to news paper industry alone. That shrinkage and erosion has taken place in organised sector of industries all over India as a result of advent of globalisation. CITU in Maharashtra is determined to overcome this situation. The All India News Paper Employees Federation represented not only the staff and workers of news paper establishments but also their working journalists as well. In addition, the AINEF had vast coverage amongst journalists, reporters and correspondents in news agencies like PTI, UNI and Associated Press etc in India. The AINEF also had close conduct and association with international news agencies and newspaper employees associations. The AINEF’s head quarters in Delhi held a meeting on October 7 and condoled the death of Sawant. It passed a resolution acknowledging the services rendered by him in organising and improving the service conditions of news paper employees and the working journalists in India.

Sawant had a prominent role in organising and conducting three countrywide strikes of news paper employees. All these three all India strikes achieved big success. These strikes were for wage revision and betterment of other service conditions of employees and working journalists. Amongst these, the first strike was 78 days long, in the year 1968. The second strike went on for 37 days and that took place in April-May 1975. The third strike prolonged for 54 days. This was in December 1977 and January 1978. The unchallenged leader of all these strikes was S Y Kolhatkar, the founder secretary of CPI(M) and the founder president of CITU in Maharashtra. This writer together with Sawant had addressed several meetings of these striking employees and working journalists in the city during all these strikes. Many of such meetings were in front of the gates of news paper establishments as well as before the office of Maharashtra Labour Commissioner at Tardeo in Mumbai.  Prominent amongst the news paper establishments in Mumbai where similar meetings of striking employees took place were Times of India, Indian Express, Free Press Journal, Janma Bhoomi etc and in their allied establishments. Their news additions and publications are in English, Marathi, Hindi and Gujrati. In many of such meetings, S Y Kolhatkar, M P More, Madan Phadnis, S P Kolpe, Madhu Shetye and Narayan Sawant would also be the speakers. Many a time, AITUC leaders Samuel Augustine, Rama Rao and B S Dhume, and CITU leaders Godavari Parulekar , P K Kurane, Ahilya Ranganekar and K L Bajaj  and HMS leader Mrinal Gore, would come to address and express solidarity with the striking employees along with this writer. Amongst the three strikes, the first one was settled through the intervention of prime minister of India,  Indira Gandhi and the former Lok Sabha speaker R K Khadilkar.

 Apart from organising agitations of employees against unfair labour practices and exploitation by news paper owners, Sawant had played a leading role in collecting datas and materials to be included in memorandums and statements of claims on various demands of the staff and workers to be presented before authorities like labour commissioners, labour ministers, labour courts, industrial tribunals, and wage boards. In that series, his help to union lawyers like K T Sule, Madan Phadnis and M P More to argue cases before various authorities were commendable.  Many of such cases would be before wage boards set up for wage revisions of employees and working journalists. There were four such wage boards, appointed by the government of India during the period Sawant was in the leadership of news paper employees. These wage boards had submitted their reports and recommendations in December 1980, in July 1989, in December 2000 and in December 2010 respectively. The irony was that despite those recommendations, the news paper tycoons refused to accept them and implement. That made the employees and their unions and federation to launch many legal battles in various high courts in the country as well as before the Supreme Court to get the recommendations implemented by the employers. These awards of wage boards gave good wage rise to the workers and journalists in India apart from improvements in their other service conditions. 

Sawant had actively participated in the Samyukta Maharashtra movement as well as in the movement for liberation of Goa from Portugal rule and Pondicherry from French rule. In that he had got arrested while offering group satyagraha at Flora Fountain for Samyukta Maharashtra in 1956. During my underground days, I kept close contact with Sawant to have connectivity and link with S Y Kolhatkar who was also underground during that period.  This was during 1965-66-67 period when more than 1500 leaders and cadres of the newly formed CPI(M) were kept in jails in different parts of India by the Jawaharlal Nehru government by branding them as “Chinese agents” and “fifth columnists.” Sawant always happened to be a leading figure in all processions and demonstrations organised by CPI(M), CITU and Trade Unions Joint Action Committee (TUJAC) in Mumbai on people’s issues. Together with Bapu Kavar and Y K Bhadange, Sawant had helped this writer in bringing out my Marathi book, “Na samplelya sanghrshatun ek pravas” (A journey through unending struggles) released in the CITU 14th state conference at Nanded in Maharashtra last September. I have mentioned this fact in the preface to that book.

Together with Bhau Patil and Krishna Khopkar he had a significant role in bringing up the BTR bhavan at Belapur in Maharashtra. Narayan Sawant was a hard working, devoted and disciplined CPI(M) functionary and trade union leader. He was one of the oldest colleagues of mine in Maharashtra. My RED SALUTE to him.